We’re so used to flushing toilet paper down our toilets that sometimes we forget that not just anything can be disposed of in this way. You’ll find signs in bathrooms in public locations asking you to refrain from flushing all sorts of strange things down their toilets, from cigarettes to female hygiene products and even plastic wrappers.
But there are also some less obvious materials that you should keep away from your toilets, too. If you flush paper towels down the toilet, for instance, you may quickly find yourself in need of a way to dissolve the clog they’ve made in your plumbing.
Kitchen towels and other kinds of paper towels are not made to be flushed down the toilet, and dissolving them is actually very difficult. There are some strong acids that can do the job, but in the end, it is safer and more effective to unblock the toilet in a different way.
In this article, we’ll cover why flushing paper towels down the toilet should not be done, how to clear a block caused by paper towels, and better ways of disposing of paper towels.
- Can You Flush Paper Towel Down the Toilet?
- How Long Does Paper Towel Take to Dissolve in Toilet?
- How to Dissolve Clogged Paper Towel in Toilet
- How to Dispose of Paper Towels Correctly
Can You Flush Paper Towel Down the Toilet?
The short answer to this question is: No, you can’t, or at least you shouldn’t.
Under no circumstances and in no situation can paper towels be successfully flushed down the toilet. Toilets use moving water to break up and transport waste to special sewage facilities, and to leave your house, it needs to pass through a variety of tubes.
When anything that does not dissolve in water is flushed down the toilet, it will travel through the plumbing without breaking up.
If too many non-dissolvable things are flushed, they will inevitably bundle together and eventually cause a clog in the plumbing. This will make it impossible for water to pass through, and result in a flooded bathroom when you try to flush the clogged toilet.
Toilet Paper vs Paper Towels
You may be thinking this much is obvious, and it is. But what isn’t so obvious is the fact that toilet paper and paper towels are very, very, very different products. In fact, it’s not really an exaggeration to say they are products that are designed to be the exact opposite of each other.
Toilet paper is made to dissolve almost instantly once it hits the water so that it can safely be flushed in large amounts every day. Even when you flush too much toilet paper, the problem will fix itself as the paper dissolves.
Paper towels, unlike toilet paper, are designed to absorb water and retain their physical integrity, so they can mop up spills and neatly transport the liquid elsewhere. This, in other words, means they are designed to not dissolve in water. They might become really soft, and be easy for us to pull apart with our hands, but there is a big difference between that and actually dissolving.
Therein lies the problem—paper towels do not dissolve, and as such, they become an obstruction in the plumbing in ways that toilet paper never does.
How Long Does Paper Towel Take to Dissolve in Toilet?
You can wait as long as you want, but paper towels will not dissolve in the toilet. They are designed to stay together no matter how much water they are faced with, and they do that job very well.
If you search ‘does bleach dissolve paper towels?’, you may find some sites that claim you can add a bit of bleach to your toilet bowl and this helps dissolve paper towels, but this is not in fact true.
Bleach is not an acid, and it is not made to corrode or dissolve matter. In the best-case scenario, it will be able to further soften the paper towels in your toilet, but will still not lead to the paper towels dissolving. There is also only a small chance that it will help you unblock a paper towel clog in your toilet.
How to Dissolve Clogged Paper Towel in Toilet
While there are acids that could dissolve paper towels, there is nothing that can be used once the paper towel is soaked with water and halfway down a toilet pipe. Mixing acids with water is dangerous and should not be done under any circumstances. The fact of the matter is that once paper towels have been flushed down your toilet and clogged the system, dissolving them is simply not an option.
As mentioned above, if you search ‘does bleach dissolve paper towels?’, you may find recommendations in some places that suggest bleach helps dissolve paper towels, but this is not actually very effective at all.
Bleach is not corrosive and cannot dissolve the paper towels, all it can do is soften them slightly and provide a small chance of dislodging them with the next flush. It should also be noted that using bleach can be problematic if your toilet has a septic tank. The septic system contains special bacteria that are used to help break down waste, and the use of bleach risks killing those bacteria completely and leaving your septic tank and/or septic system useless.
This doesn’t mean that your clogged toilet is beyond saving, though. It just means that dissolving paper towels isn’t the way to unclog your toilet. But don’t fret!
There are plenty of other things you can try other than dissolving paper towels that have a much higher chance of working and avoiding further damage. Bear in mind that the following methods are for toilets blocked with paper towels only, not cloth towels.
Method 1 – Plunger
The first thing you can try is the most obvious thing—a plunger! This is the classic drain unclogging tool that just about everyone owns. Rather than trying to dissolve paper towels, this method will hopefully be able to dislodge them and bring them back to the surface of your toilet bowl.
When using a plunger, you need to insert it into the toilet water and make sure it’s fully submerged. Push down slowly at first to avoid causing a splash, and then pull up sharply to generate suction and begin dislodging the paper towels.
One thing to be aware of when using a plunger is that it can take some time. If your clogged toilet isn’t fixed in the first 3 tries, this doesn’t mean you need to give up. The plunger will shift the paper towels in the pipes, little by little, until they can be pulled up to the surface. However, it’s likely this could take 20-25 plunges to happen. If the used paper towels clogging your toilet don’t seem to be moving even after 30 plunges, then you can give up and move on to the next method!
If you do manage to get your paper towels dislodged, you will have to remove them from the toilet. You can wear thick rubber gloves and a plastic elbow sleeve to do this by hand or even use the plunger to scoop them up and deposit them into a bin.
The plunger may disturb some other matter that was stuck in your toilet pipes as well, which is not a bad thing, but it can be a good idea to use some drain cleaner after plunging to freshen things up.
Method 2 – Toilet Auger
A toilet auger is a tool used by plumbers to unclog toilets. It can also be called a toilet snake or a closet auger. The tool is long, thin, and flexible so it is able to travel down the toilet pipes and reach the obstruction.
The toilet auger will have a textured ball on the end that can be used to pull apart and break up whatever is blocking the toilet, as well as avoid scratching the visible ceramic surface inside the toilet bowl. In this case, all you’re breaking up is soft paper towels, so it should be quite an easy job.
Simply insert the plumbing snake into the plumbing fixture and feed it into the pipe. Keep pushing to send the plumbing auger further down until it meets the flushed material. You can then twist the cleaning cable in order to break the paper towel into smaller pieces. You won’t be able to see just how the process is coming along, so it’s best to do it a little more than you think is necessary.
When you’re ready to try your luck, remove the hand held snake and do some continuous flushing to flush away the paper towels and any other waste. Watch the toilet to see if it drains as quickly as it normally would. If it does, you’re likely to have fixed the clog.
When everything is fixed, remember to make sure everyone in your household knows that they can’t flush paper towels down the toilet anymore. If you continue to do so, the toilet will end up clogging again.
Method 3 – Wire Hanger
If you flush paper towels down your toilet instead of toilet paper and cause a clog, you can also try dislodging them with a wire hanger. This is a DIY option if you don’t have and don’t want to buy a proper toilet auger. If you unwind and straighten out a wire hanger, it should be able to work its way through the pipes in the same way as a toilet auger.
However, it won’t be as long, so if your clog is quite far down, you may have trouble reaching it. The hanger is also not designed for this job and could cause scratches to toilet bowls. If you can reach the blockage, try to break it apart and then do some continuous flushing to see if you can restore the water flow.
Method 4 – Vinegar and Baking Soda
If you haven’t used drain cleaner on your toilet in a while, it could be that there is some other build-up in your toilet pipes as well as paper towels. If you think this could be the case, you could use a drain cleaner to dissolve these clogs, and hopefully create some extra leeway for the paper towel to be flushed away.
We recommend trying this method if methods 1, 2, and 3 didn’t work for you or couldn’t be tried. If you could try this vinegar and baking soda method and it doesn’t work, you may need to call a professional to fix the problem.
To clean your toilet with vinegar and baking soda, you’ll need to boil about a gallon of hot water and add one cup of baking soda and two cups of distilled white vinegar to your toilet bowl. Once the hot water is boiled, pour it into the toilet bowl.
The vinegar and baking soda will start to fizz when the hot water is added, and hopefully begin to dissolve any organic material available in the pipes of your toilet. It likely will not be able to dissolve paper towels, but it may be able to have some softening effects which could also help the process along.
The water level in the toilet will rise quite a bit due to all the hot water you added, and since your toilet is blocked, you should definitely not try to flush the toilet while it is in this state. Once your drain cleaning solution has got to work, you’ll need to leave it overnight to complete its job.
The moment of truth will come the next morning when you’ll be able to see if the process has gone according to plan. If it has, the clogs will have dissolved enough to let the water pass and the toilet bowl will have drained to a normal level. If this is the case, you can then flush the toilet and hopefully flush away the remaining paper towel.
If it has not worked and your toilet bowl is still over-full, the best thing you can do is call a professional.
It should be noted that some guides will say that you can use dish soap instead of vinegar and baking soda if you wish, but we do not recommend using dish soap when your clogs are mostly caused by paper towels.
Dish soap likely isn’t strong enough to do this job and you will be increasing your chances of failure if you do decide to try dish soap.
Method 5 – Call a Professional
When the problem persists and becomes out of your power to fix, it’s time to call a professional. If you’re not comfortable experimenting with toilet unclogging techniques and are willing to pay the additional cost, you can also just use this method right from the start. Be ready to get advised not to flush paper towels down the toilet instead of toilet paper, though, because the plumber will definitely say this to you!
It is likely that the professional plumber will also not attempt to dissolve paper towels that are stuck in your pipes. It is more likely that he will use an auger or a sewer jetter to dislodge the paper towels.
How to Dispose of Paper Towels Correctly
While practically all toilets are used to large quantities of toilet papers being flushed down them, none are capable of handling paper towels. The main way to dispose of used paper towels is simply to throw them in the trash.
Paper towels are not suitable for recycling due to how the paper towel is made, and the fact that it is always soiled when it is thrown away. While certain types of paper towels can be composted, composting is not very common, so it’s not an option for most people.
If you are concerned about recycling, the best thing you can do is buy paper towels that are made from recycled material, and try to limit the amount you use so it lasts longer.
You could also consider switching to cloth towels instead of paper towels. Cloth towels and rags are suitable for frequent washing, more absorbent, and more eco-friendly. More importantly, you won’t be flushing them down the toilet, so your septic tanks and the entire plumbing system will be safe!
While toilet paper will dissolve quickly in water, paper towels will not dissolve at all. If you want to find a way to make paper towels dissolve quickly so you can continue to flush them down the toilet, you are unfortunately searching for something impossible.
Most households have made the mistake of flushing paper towels once or twice, so it’s definitely not uncommon. But once you realize that it shouldn’t be done, it is best for your toilet and your wallet that you do make the changes necessary.
We couldn’t help you dissolve your paper towels, but we do hope that this article helped you unclog your toilet, and will help you keep it unclogged from now on!